A common newbie mistake when photographing sports is to use the fastest shutter speed to freeze action. That’s fine where there is a peak of action, as in basketball and baseball. The Sports mode on many cameras selects short exposures to stop movement.
But with speedy sports, such as downhill skiing and motorsports, freezing the action with fast shutter speeds can result in static, posed-looking shots.
Frozen speedster: At 1/500 sec there is some sense of action (blurred tires, etc) with this Formula One car but there is no sensation of speed. ©2005 Joe Farace
Instead, convey a dynamic sense of motion with a slower shutter speed while panning with the action. Done right, the subject stays sharp and the background is blurred.
During panning, move the camera with subject, parallel to it and in the same plane. The shutter speed depends on the subject’s speed and should be too long rather than too short. When in doubt, set a shutter speed between 1/60 sec and 1/15 sec in Shutter Priority mode or Manual mode.
Tip: Begin the pan before you trip the shutter and keep panning until after the shutter closes. This will capture your pan more smoothly. Canon’s latest Image Stabilization lenses even offer a second image stabilization mode that is specifically designed for panning.
Pan for action: A slow shutter speed (1/20 sec), panning, and fill flash combine to capture the speed of this racer photographed at dusk at Laguna Seca Raceway. ©2006 Joe Farace
Joe Farace is the author of a new book called “Getting Started in Digital Imaging” published by Focal Press (ISBN 024080838X.) It’s available in all the best bookstores as well as Amazon.com.